As the significance of his change of fortunes began slowly to dawn on him, Conniston was at first merely amused. One of the men employed by John W. Crawford, a man whom Conniston came to know later as Rawhide Jones, conducted him at the Old Man’s orders to the bunk-house. The man was lean, tall, sunburned, and the tout ensemble of his attire—his flapping, soiled vest, his turned-up, dingy-blue overalls, his torn neck-handkerchief, and, above all, the two-weeks’ growth upon his spare face—gave him an unbelievable air of untidiness. He cast one slow, measuring glance at the young fellow who Mr. Crawford had said briefly was to go to work in the morning, and then without a word, without a further look or waiting to see if he was followed, slouched on ahead toward the gap in the encircling trees into which Lonesome Pete had disappeared earlier in the afternoon.
Conniston saw that Argyl Crawford was standing at her father’s side and that she was smiling; he saw that Hapgood was laughing openly. And then he turned and strode on after his guide, conscious that the blood was creeping up into his face and at the same time that he could not “back down.”
The graveled road wound through the pines for an eighth of a mile, leaving the bench land and finding its way into a hollow cleared of trees. Here was a long, low, rambling building—a stable, no doubt. At each end of the stable was a stock-corral. And at the edge of the clearing was another building, long and very low, with one single door and several little square windows. A stove-pipe protruded from the far end of this house, and from it rose a thin spiral of smoke.
“The Ol’ Man said I was to show you your bunk,” Rawhide Jones muttered under his breath. “You’re to have the one as was Benny’s. Benny got kilt some time back.”
He flung the door open and entered. Conniston, at his heels, paused a moment, staring about him. A man in dingy-blue undershirt, the sleeves rolled back upon forearms remarkable for their knotting, swelling muscles, was frying great thick steaks upon the top of the stove, enveloped in the smoke and odor of his own cooking. In the middle of the room was a long table, covered with worn oil-cloth, set out with plates and cups of heavy white ware and with black wooden-handled knives and forks. Running up and down each side of the one unpartitioned room were narrow bunks, a row close to the floor, another row three feet higher, arranged roughly like berths on board a steamer.
Sitting on chairs, or on the edges of the bunks with their legs a-dangle, their eyes interestedly upon the cook’s operations, were half a dozen men, rough of garb, rough of hands, big, brawny, uncouth. As Conniston came into the room every pair of eyes left the cook to examine him swiftly, frankly. He paused a moment for the introduction Rawhide Jones would make. But Rawhide Jones had no idea of doing anything more than enough to fulfil his orders. He strode on through the men until he stopped at one of the upper bunks, about the middle of the room, from which a worn, soiled red quilt trailed half-way to the floor.